Mumsnet: talking money and relationships

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Women are using Mumsnet to swap advice on dealing with financial inequality and men who do not pay their fair share.

The finding comes from a Goldsmiths, University of London and University of Birmingham study that analysed four months’ worth of discussion threads on the Mumsnet website, with titles such as ‘Is he tight or am I just a princess?’ and ‘Is he tight or am I expecting too much?’.

The discussions, each including as many as 681 responses, showed women openly discussing men’s financial behaviour and what it was reasonable to expect financially from male partners. The research revealed that in Mumsnet women found a supportive online community where they felt comfortable sharing details of money-related relationship issues and giving practical advice on how to resolve them.

Commenters did not shy away from calling out what they regarded as unacceptable behaviour, labelling a man reluctant to pay his share of the bills a ‘cocklodger’ (a term borrowed from the comic Viz) and one who would rather spend money on himself than his partner a ‘manchild’. Advice on dealing with this behaviour ranged from ‘chuck him out’ and ‘make him step up’ to tips on how to sit down with a male partner and have a constructive discussion about money.

The discussions also touched on serious issues such as financial abuse, where partners withhold financial information and access to bank accounts. The study found that contributors to Mumsnet were unafraid to name such controlling behaviour and identify it as a form of domestic abuse.

A report of the research is published in the British Journal of Sociology.

Dr Liz Moor, study author and Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, said: “Women might be too embarrassed to discuss relationship money troubles with family and friends but sites like Mumsnet provide them with online communities where they can get frank advice from strangers on what they see as an unfair financial situation.”

Dr Shireen Kanji, study author and Reader in Work and Organisation at the University of Birmingham, said: “The anonymity online communities offer means that people are more likely to be honest and less likely to feel judged than if they were talking to someone face-to-face. Our research shows how people want to understand social norms at a time when the context of families and relationships is changing and go on to use these understandings in their negotiations with partners.”

Examples of Mumsnet discussions from the study:

In the thread ‘Is he tight or am I expecting too much?’ a woman reported that since her maternity pay has come to an end she is dependent on her partner’s earnings and only gets an ‘allowance’ for groceries, travel and ‘the odd new toy or outfit’ for her child and feels ‘very controlled’. Respondents were generally sympathetic (‘I don’t think this is fair at all’) and suggested she should ‘charge him an hourly rate’ for childcare and domestic work. However, they also highlighted her responsibilities: ‘I find it pretty inconceivable (yes, pun intended) that grown women can have sex with a man, live with him, have a child with him yet not have a basic discussion about how to manage joint finances.’

One woman who had been married for 20 years asked ‘Is my husband controlling me?’. While she said she otherwise had a happy marriage her husband controlled the finances so that, despite them both working, she did not see bills or have access to online bank accounts. Respondents described this as a kind of emotional abuse and linked to resources from the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.

In one thread a woman described her partner’s debts and reluctance to pay his share of the bills. One respondent said: ‘The man is a classic cocklodger: he thinks he is entitled to spend his money on himself and be supported by you. Chuck him out…’

In another thread a woman who earned more than her male partner and often paid for things worried their relationship could never be ‘normal’. One respondent suggested the problem was not that she was out-earning her partner but that she was doing all the ‘wifework’ too: ‘So, you work full time, pay most of the bills, do most of the cooking and cleaning, organising the house/holidays/social life. You've got yourself something aptly called a cocklodger. A very expensive one at that.’

A report of the research, entitled ‘Money and relationships online: communication and norm formation in women’s discussions of couple resource allocation’, is published in the British Journal of Sociology.

Image: Money by Petras Gagilas via Flickr.